When veteran Joss Whedon actor J. August Richards was cast in the pilot for "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." speculation ran the gamut as to what part he was playing. Turns out, we were all wrong: his regular Joe Mike Peterson has turned into the unstoppable cyborg known to comic book fans as Deathlok.
As the series nears the conclusion of its first season, Richards is back, terrorizing agent Skye (Chloe Bennet) and potentially working for evil HYDRA turncoat Ward (Brett Dalton). So he's a bad guy, right?
"My heart always skips a beat whenever someone refers to my character as a villain," Richards told MTV News in advance of tonight's episode. "Only because I'm so close to it at this point. Mike, at the beginning just wanted to be a hero for his son, and everything he has done has been to that end."
Those things Peterson has done include signing up for the Centipede program, which gave him super-strength and speed, but also incredible rage. Which makes sense, because it was based on technology by one Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk.
Things only got worse when Peterson had a bomb implanted in his eye, along with a computer controlled by HYDRA that sends him on very, very bad missions. Add in robotic implants and weapons, and you have an unstoppable machine with a very conflicted soul.
"This is his worst nightmare come true," Richards continued. "Someone on Twitter referred to me as the anti-villain, and I like that."
It isn't like Peterson isn't at fault, though. When asked whether the character has brought this fate on himself through his bad decisions, Richards mulled for a moment before answering.
"I believe it's all about intention," Richards said. "People can do the same thing, but their intention can be different. And I know that Mike's intentions have always been pure. I still see the hero in him."
And it comes through in Richards' performance. Rather than being a blank Terminator bent on destruction, the actor tries to get across the anguish and fury inherent in being controlled, just through his eyes and body language.
"One word always rings out when I'm preparing to play the character," Richards noted. "Shame. The elements about the movement that are robotic to me aren't about the cybernetic pieces. They're about the shame, and trying to move beyond it. He's trying to disassociate himself from the things he has to do."
In the April 29 airing episode, "Nothing Personal," Richards is working for the recently revealed Clairvoyant (Bill Paxton), who in turn is working for evil anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. organization HYDRA. But the next week, in the May 6 airing "Ragtag," things go even deeper as Agents Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) go undercover at Cybertek, the people who made Deathlok. So will we find out more about his origins?
"Wait, how does everybody know about all of this!" Richards said, laughing. "If I say anything, I can feel that Marvel will press the button and explode the bomb in my head."
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.